September 2, 2007

Citizen Context for Negotiations

Justin Katz

So this is the final month of severance pay from the editing job that I lost in the spring.

We've resources for approximately another six months — longer if my wife goes back to work. The local economy is such, however, that even if we were comfortable putting our children in daycare to allow for a full 40-hour workweek on her part, it is unlikely that she could make up the deficit. (Our investment in her education, you see, was to qualify her to teach. Lapses in both certifications and continuing education requirements have placed the necessary additional investments beyond our reach.) If it proves necessary, some mixture of daycare, waitressing on my wife's part, and side work on my part could fill in the gaps, but then I'd have to loose the progress that I've made with writing for the second time in the space of a few years.

I offer this not to bemoan my circumstances, but to give a sense of the context in which I've been considering the following information from a Newport Daily News story about the Tiverton teachers' preparation to strike:

The School Committee's current proposal for salary and health care would decrease teachers overall salaries by 1.5 percent, according to union officials. The average loss in wages for a member on a family heath-care plan is $2,201 and the average loss in wages for a member on an individual plan is $1,315, according to union figures.

I haven't seen any specifics from the various proposals (although I'd note for Mr. Crowley's benefit that my email is linked beneath my name on the Contributors tab to the left), but I'd say it's a reasonable assumption that the union is factoring at least its usual 3% step raise into its calculation of teacher "losses." Taking the numbers as laid out in their most recent contract (PDF) and increasing them 3% as required by the one-year extension (PDF) that they accepted last year (all of which information Pat Crowley has helpfully provided on his Web site), the following table presents the amounts in question:

Step 2006–2007
1 $35,484 $36,548
2 $38,077 $39,219
3 $40,672 $41,892
4 $43,415 $44,717
5 $46,255 $47,643
6 $49,177 $50,652
7 $51,974 $53,533
8 $54,860 $56,506
9 $58,041 $59,782
10 $64,205 $66,131

Readers should keep four things in mind when considering these numbers. First, these are not the whole story as far as cash remuneration is concerned. Advanced studies can add up to 6.53% to the salary. Teachers receive longevity bonuses from $200 for 10 years of service to $600 for thirty. Coaching or taking on advisory roles (whether of students or of fellow teachers) can add thousands of dollars to a salary. And other, professional development–type activities also yield additional money.

Second, these salaries are for a 7-hour 180-day work year, with school vacations and a full summer available for extra work, if desired. Add to that consideration the opportunity to accumulate a full year of sick days as well opportunities for partially paid sabbaticals and such.

Third, the health benefits cost teachers well below what most people in the private sector must pay. The copays (dental included) are $675 for an individual plan and $1,100 for a family plan — or $26 and $42 per biweekly paycheck. Any teachers who decline the dental coverage receive a $250 payment. Any teacher whose spouse also works for the Tiverton school district receives $1,000 stipend instead of a unique health plan.

Fourth, teachers go up a step each year, so the actual raise for any teacher not yet at step 10 is the step increase plus the 3% adjustment. With each step increase amounting to a 6–7% raise (10% from step 9 to step 10), the actual increase in earnings for teachers in their first decade with the district is around 10%.

Now reread the above paragraph from the Newport Daily News report. If I'm correct that the 1.5% "overall salary decrease" is calculated after the expected 3% step adjustment, then the union is complaining that the take-home pay of teachers who have no other adjustments to their compensation will only be increasing by 1.5% for those above step 10, only around 8.5% for teachers below step 10, and only 11.5% for teachers going from step 9 to step 10.

Forgive me if my heart doesn't bleed for them as I contemplate 80-hour-plus workweeks, 51 weeks per year, just to get by.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

maybe you should get a union Jus if you are working that many hours and only get one week of vacation.

By the way, I don't know why you are assuming what the raise is going to be for the upcoming year.

So you know, the steps were first introduced by MANAGEMENT in the 70's as a way to save money. It means that for the first 3rd of a teachers career, they are paid below market level and that the BOSS can replace a retiring or leaving senior teacher with a cheaper one.

But, if your argument is that fairness means reducing everyone to your level instead of raising everyone up to a higher one... well, I guess that is just where the disagreement is.

PS. If I were a Tiverton Taxpayer, I would be outraged that the School Committee is insisting on a higher cost plan when the union has offered a lower cost alternative. See it at

Posted by: Pat Crowley at September 2, 2007 1:29 PM

The point isn't that everybody must be reduced to "my level." It's that additional benefits to teachers (not alone among public unionized workforces and other beneficiaries of RI government generosity, I'd stress) ultimately come at the expense of taxpayers, many of whom are struggling to get by and all of whom are affected by the deadened economy that Rhode Island's fiscal policies cause.

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 2, 2007 1:35 PM

Steps may have been introduced by management years ago, as Pat says; I will have to take his word for it.

But whether that is true or not is completely irrelevant to the conversation that matters - the economics of teachers' salary increases and the impact of those economics on working families and retirees in our communities who pay the teachers' salaries and benefits out of their hard-earned monies.

At least in East Greenwich, something changed around the beginning of this decade in the size of the salary increases embedded in the step-based salary schedules.

For East Greenwich, if you compare the 1996-1997 to 1998-1999 salary schedules, the salaries increased a total of 9.7-15.0% over TWO years for steps 1-9 - equal to compounded ANNUALIZED salary increases of 4.7-7.2%. Those are high salary increases, but not outrageously so. (This assumes a 2-step increase over the two years.)

Some combination of stupid management and over-reaching union demands changed the magnitude of the salary increases embedded in these salary schedules such that comparing the 3-year period of 2000-2001 to 2003-2004 shows that steps 1-9 received compounded ANNUALIZED salary increases of 9.1-12.6% - all while everyone publicly declared the steps were only going up about 3.5%/year. And those are outrageously high salary increases.

So what is an irrefutable fact is that it is utterly misleading for both school committees and the NEA to talk about 3-3.5% increases to each step when the actual increases - which always count the step increases - are typically 9-12%/year, except for the top step. And the school leadership and NEA both willingly kept the true salary increases from the taxpaying public.

To top it off, the worst teacher in the district got the same 9-12% annual increase as the best teacher in the district. There isn't a person I know who would argue against a large salary increase for the best teachers. But we sure will argue that the worst teacher should be put on a performance improvement plan asap and then fired if they don't improve. And the NEA has no acceptable answer to this issue.

Posted by: Donald B. Hawthorne at September 2, 2007 2:37 PM


Teachers are hired at significantly below market rates compared to other professions requiring comparable education (nursing and pharmacy being two local examples where starting salaries have risen above top step teacher compensation), and the step scale causes them to wait ten years to get to full market comparability, after which raises approximate inflation for the rest of their careers. The myth of the 180-day year, 7 hour day is also false - not only do the continuing education requirements that your wife cannot afford take place outside those parameters (and often at the teacher's own expense), so do many other daily activities regarding preparation for each school day and school year. If educaiton were under a true industrial model, every minute would be compensated.

Many college graduate, private sector salaries start higher and double much faster than a comparable teaching job, which takes about nine years to do so. Unlike teachers, in the private sector, most employees never have to purchase supplies to enhance the workplace (the average teacher spends up to $500 a year to do so). In the private sector, lunch is more than 22 minutes, and the rigidity of the school year in planning vacations does not apply. Also, many private sector jobs provide the needed professional development within the context of the work day, fully compensated.

The compensation of school teachers in Rhode Island is on par with the market in Southern New England, and, when adjusted for local cost of living, on par with the country as a whole.

Also, in my experience, very few teachers are supporting families on one income (at least not by choice). With no offense intended, if you have the equivalent education of a teacher and need to work 80 hours a week, 51 weeks a year to earn the equivalent of a teacher's salary, you should give some consideration to other opportunities, or you should realize that you have intentionally made a lifestyle choice that has limited your earnings. More power to you if that is your choice, but it is no justification for your relentless attack on teacher compensation.

Posted by: Bob Walsh at September 2, 2007 5:08 PM

Don wrote:

"There isn't a person I know who would argue against a large salary increase for the best teachers. But we sure will argue that the worst teacher should be put on a performance improvement plan asap and then fired if they don't improve. And the NEA has no acceptable answer to this issue."

Don - our answer, acceptable or not, is that there should be a qualified teacher in every classroom. If a non-tenured teacher is dismissed for not meeting that standard as defined by a school committee (not the union), there is little the union can do. If a tenured teacher is accused of not meeting that standard, then the union has the legal obligation to defend that teacher if defense if requested, in which case both sides have the opportunity to make a case, and a decision is rendered. As you know, since the school committee ultimately sets the standard, monitors it, gathers the evidence to determine if it is being met, and has to agree with the union on who hears the case, the only possible reasons a school committee would lose such an action must be either incomptence on its part or false motivation for bringing the action in the first place. Tough to blame the union in either situation, it seems to me.

Posted by: Bob Walsh at September 2, 2007 5:20 PM

I didn't say that I have to work 80-hour weeks, 51 weeks per year, "to earn the equivalent of a teacher's salary." I said that I am contemplating the necessity of that work schedule "just to get by." As it happens, I do have the equivalent education of a teacher (more if we judge education by standards beyond the number of course credits), and yet, through the wonders of the merit-based free market, I've managed to cobble a reasonable salary after just a few years doing something with no educational requirements at all (carpentry). If I could earn the same salary on a teacher's schedule (which, yes, sometimes requires grading papers or preparing for classes during So You Think You Can Dance — I was a long-term substitute for a few months, Bob, and know how that goes), I would be able to earn that much more on the side, and advocate against unions that much more vociferously.

Moreover, I've acknowledged and explained before that my financial troubles are mostly of my own making (although Rhode Island's pitiful slate of opportunities had much to do with my various choices along the way).

But none of that is to the point: Increases in teacher compensation ultimately derive from the citizens of the town in which they teach (or the state, if the district represents a net drain), many of whom are currently struggling to meet their mortgage payments. Moreover, our state is in financial crisis and has level-funded schools. In this environment, perhaps it is justified to undertake "relentless attacks" on teachers who are preparing to strike — adding one more disruption to the lives of a struggling citizenry — to continue to increase what is already a generous employment package.

Really, Bob, to whom do you think you're presenting your case, a bunch of rubes mystified by the notion of four-year degrees? The pharmacy program at URI is six years. Given schedules and job-site risks and strains, the comparison to nurses is hardly fair. To pick another career of comparable education, when I began work as an editor out of college, the first step teacher's salary would have been a dream-like starting salary, and the increases were on the order of 4% per year. Marketing and other career paths don't do much better. (And we won't even introduce the pitiful comparison of private-school teachers.)

My fair and well-meaning advice to public school teachers is to keep their heads down and rack up some PR points for working with communities to get us through the tough times initiated by the politicians whom their union organization has helped to foist on the state. My advice to the Tiverton and Burrillville school committees remains: fire all the teachers and rehire those who are interested in returning sans union; it could be that, by the next election cycle, the improvements wrought by the disruption will have been sufficient to campaign on.

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 2, 2007 6:53 PM

Actually the link you posted in your rebuttal is for a six year Doctor of Pharmacy Program not simply a Bachelor's degree.

Quote from that page:
The education of a pharmacist is rigorous. Students wishing to become pharmacists today must complete six years of study (two years pre-professional/four years professional education) to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree.

Since you want examples: My sister is a professor at a local university. One of the graduates, with a Bachelor's in her program (CIS), received a starting salary of $57,500. She knew of a few others in the low to mid 50 range! Nice for 22-23 years old! I think it is about 7-9 years before a teacher receives that salary.

Posted by: Marlene at September 2, 2007 7:27 PM


I'm not sure what your point is vis-a-vis pharmacy. As you quote: "Students wishing to become pharmacists today must complete six years of study." Bob listed pharmacy as requiring "comparable education." Four years in the pharmacy program results in something less than a pharmacist.

As for your sister's experience, what does it amount to? Four students in a computer information system made over $50,000 per year? We're not talking a few students; we're talking the standardized teacher salary in this state. (Indeed, if I had my druthers, a just-graduated education student would be able to find a job teaching at that salary as step one.)

But again, if one intends to argue for a negotiated salary rate that is fundamentally disconnected from market forces by citing others with "comparable education," you have to include everybody with comparable education.

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 2, 2007 7:40 PM

My point was not taken. It is likely more than just "a few" students in "a few" majors commanding STARTING salaries that high. Over the course of even five years those that average over $15,000 higher than a teacher (starting their career at the same time and assuming ALL professions get annual salary increases) we are talking about $75,000.

As for the PharmD, yes it is six years. You also know it is not unusual for teachers to work on master's degrees while teaching/working, so I am not sure I understand why Bob's point about education levels isn't "comparable" to you.

For that matter, it is the state (and in some cases federal) government that determines the criteria by which I am licensed/qualified to teach (or to practice nursing or pharmacy).

Are there college majors that can't get anywhere near the starting salary of a teacher? Yes, and those are the ones you should have warned you about. Oh, and also for the record, twenty years ago I was making $6.00 an hour as a college graduate because I originally had one of those majors!

Posted by: Marlene at September 2, 2007 8:14 PM


But you're just making numbers up based on supposed experience. If that's the standard, then I'll simply counter that many more than your "more than just a few" college graduates make less than starting teachers (especially once one accounts for all of the perks, from healthcare to the 180-day work year). That's also why Bob's "comparable" plea doesn't cut it.

Frankly, it's bizarre to appeal to the "market rate" of this or that career when attempting to construct negotiated salaries that are purposefully disconnected from market forces. If we are going to talk market rates for teachers, let's look to private schools. I know a few $18,000 per year parochial school teachers who might have a comment or two on that count (and I'm sure they'd be thrilled to hear that a school district such as Tiverton had tired of union bullying and was looking to fill 100 or so positions).

And I must say that I'm disappointed to hear those arguing on behalf of teachers treating each person's chosen vocation as if it ought to be solely about money. What happened to the passion of those called to do a particular type of work?

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 2, 2007 8:39 PM

You pull out points, numbers, statistics and arguments that suit your point of view. You have made up your mind, so my writing is actually a futile effort on my part. But here I go again: Teachers don't just work 180 days (I am up to about 195 not counting everything I do), teachers aren't in it solely for the money (my mortgage alone is more than half my take home pay), and there have been many times when I have finished a full day of work (and that is 8 hours) and then spend another 2-3 hours in class or professional meetings.

I have come to the conclusion you don't seem to value what teachers do, what it took for them to get there, what it takes for them to stay there. (I am speaking of professional requirements). We are not living the Life of Riley here and why you think we are I am not really sure. There is nothing more I can say.

PS: I can't wait to get back into my classroom to be with my kids! They are truly a joy.

Posted by: Marlene at September 2, 2007 9:48 PM

Well, of course I cite numbers that support my point of view. But if I haven't addressed numbers presented by the other side, I'd welcome a heads-up to them.

The reality is that I do respect what teachers do. I've done it. I know it's hard work. Furthermore, I've accompanied my wife on the journey from hopeful young teacher through hurdles (mainly political) that just couldn't be overcome in light of other things that were going on in our lives.

But at the same time, I can't escape the impression that teachers — goaded on by the union mentality, no doubt — have no concept of what those who ultimately pay their bills (i.e., the taxpayers) are facing. You're up to 195 days of work per year? With all due respect, Marlene, whoopedeedoo. A regular full-year job with one week of vacation and six national holidays is 249 days. That's a difference of 54 days, or about 11 weeks if one actually gets weekends off.

I'm not saying that teachers ought to be brought low. My ire is raised mainly by the apparent lack of respect for the fact that Rhode Island is in a state of fiscal crisis. People are leaving because they can't afford to stay here. Their children must look elsewhere for opportunities. And still the supposed role models for our children are going on strike? Still their union representatives are cracking one liners in the local media attacking school committees? Still those same union officials are openly partisan supporters of the party that is strangling our state on with corruption and special deals for special interests?

I figured that you were a teacher; I haven't been able to discern whether you're from one of those districts that's in the midst of contract disputes. But if you are, then I hope you really can't wait to get back into your classroom, and I hope you won't choose to stay home at the union's behest. If you do, I'd just as soon have the school administration tell you to stay there.

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 2, 2007 10:30 PM

You are making a liar out of me, Justin. I said I was done and here I am again.

First of all you ignored that I said I wasn't counting everything I do when I came up with the 195 days. (Should I include hours I tack on to my eight hour days? I'd have to check my old calendar and it may take a while.)

You compare teachers to individuals in jobs that get only one week off, geez, I would think most people with professional degrees get more time than that. I thought most places were like 2-3 weeks. Should I look that up, too?

If you are in a business, such as carpentry, I certainly hope I pay you fairly for job you have completed for me. Then again, you won't mind a little less if I am a little short will you?

I didn't create a state budget crisis, and it certainly shouldn't be on my back to solve it.

And I am sorry to say, you sound rather bitter that for whatever reason your wife wasn't able to get a job in teaching.

I am not in one of those districts in the midst, however, I have been in the past and up to my elbows in it and I would do it again. It doesn't mean I don't love my students. Sadly, that is one of the oldest arguments in the book.

Posted by: Marlene at September 2, 2007 11:10 PM

>>I didn't create a state budget crisis, and it certainly shouldn't be on my back to solve it.

Actually Marlene, you did create the budget crisis, and it should be on your back to solve it.

You see, in the realm of this discussion you are not an individual, but part of a collective.

Within that collective, you are just a fungible unit, individually distinguished only by your seniority - your individual skill, merit, dedication or performance are irrelevant in the unionized collective of which you are a part - though acknowledging that for many teachers the situation is involuntary, as you are forced to join the union or lose your job (what does this tell us about the NEA?).

This collective of which you are a part, along with its allied collectives (the other public sector unions), along with the public unionized-staffed social welfare system - constituted the overwhelming portion of the state budget.

In turn, those same collectives have hijacked the political process by recycling dues into campaign support, having people on union payrolls "volunteer" for political campaigns while being paid by the union, and soliciting and financing primary opponents to run against wayward Democrats who don't strictly follow the unions' marching orders.

The unions claim to be "democratic" organizations. Thus (at least in theory) they are merely following the agenda set by members like YOU.

So yes, you have caused the budget crisis and it should be solved "on your back."

Posted by: Tom W at September 3, 2007 12:20 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.